ASHAWAY — Some Ashaway residents are mulling over the implications of the recent vote by members of the Ashaway Fire District to approve $50,000 in funding for the Ashaway Ambulance Association.
The first vote, which took place at the fire district’s annual meeting in July, was 13 to 12 against funding the ambulance corps. But the measure passed just a month later in a second vote.
The second vote on the funding question was held on Aug. 20 after 100 residents requested a special meeting, which can be called if a minimum of 50 people sign a petition. Fewer than 60 members attended the second meeting. The measure won approval with 30 members in favor of allocating the funds and 22 opposed.
The town’s two ambulance services, Ashaway and the Hope Valley Ambulance Squad, each received a $50,000 grant this year from the Hopkinton Town Council. The council withheld Ashaway’s funding until the corps improved its record-keeping and financial planning, and adopted a nepotism policy. Once those and other conditions were satisfied, the funds were released.
But with a smaller service area and subscription base than Hope Valley, the Ashaway ambulance service requested an additional $50,000 from the fire district to add a second paid shift so it could respond to more calls. The second and third shifts are currently covered by volunteers.
Fire Commissioner Mike Williams said he felt it was necessary to approve the funds.
“Somebody has to do it,” he said. “We can’t let them disband. The other ambulance service is strapped themselves, and they can’t cover the town and cover Ashaway, so we had to do something.”
Hopkinton Town Council Vice President Thomas Buck, who, with fellow councillor and Ashaway resident Barbara Capalbo, served as liaison between the council and the ambulance corps, said he was bothered by a proposal included with the funding to eliminate annual ambulance subscriptions.
“It would be fine, as long as they mail out subscriptions,” he said. “What happens if another company picks us up — Westerly or Hope Valley? Are we covered?”
Williams said the issue of subscriptions had not yet been decided and would be discussed at the September meeting of the fire district’s Board of Commissioners.
“Some people would rather see the subscriptions stay,” he said. “The ambulance corps gets about $12,000 a year from the subscriptions, so if they do away with them, the $50,000 is less than 40 grand, so some people felt that they ought to still do the subscriptions also. My suggestion to them was to not really do subscriptions, but send out letters like they do with the subscription and just ask for a tax deductible donation. … But that’s going to be up to the ambulance corps. The fire district is going to invite them to our normal September meeting so we can iron out the details.”
Another question posed by Buck and others is whether the fire district’s grant is destined to become an annual payment.
“Can they put it every year? Why not?” he said. “I’m not against it, but I think the people should be notified a little bit more if they do that.”
Williams said he could not say if the funding would continue after this year.
“It was asked if this is a one-time thing, and I just couldn’t answer that,” Williams said. “Nobody knows what the future will bring. I would hope that at some point, if we can get them over the hump, they will be self-sustaining. I don’t know.”
Capalbo said she was prepared to wait and see how the ambulance corps performs with the additional funding.
“Since the ambulance and the fire department work hand in glove, I’d like to see what’s going to occur,” she said. “It’ll be very interesting, because both will be fiscally tied together and responsible for the other’s success.”
Williams said no funds would be disbursed until fire tax revenue started coming in.
“How are we going to pay it? Are we going to pay it quarterly like the town does or are we going to pay them monthly? We have to wait until the tax money comes in when people start paying their taxes, and the bills haven’t even gone out yet. We’ve got to make sure we do it legally. We’ve got to talk to our accountants, make sure we have the paperwork all right so we can show everybody where the money went,” he said.